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Teaching and Learning Blog

This week’s blog bisects a busy week for me, with BPS business taking me to Brighton, London, Edinburgh, back to London and Llandudno, and extending from Sunday morning to Saturday afternoon.

My first appointments were at the Liberal Democrat Conference. I believe it is important for us, and indeed our colleagues in the other medical Royal Colleges, to be present at these events, even if little material work is done.

At the conference of the party in power, work is appropriately delegated to official government departments, agencies and civil servants. At this year’s Labour Conference, I confidently expect ‘leadership’ to be the dominant topic of conversation. The Liberal Democrats have only sufficient MPs to fit into two taxis….

They are opportunities for personal conversations – with friends who lead work on, for example, mental health care, dementia care, the interface between health and social care, and the role of third-sector and commercial organisations in these areas. So our presence sends the message that the BPS is interested and engaged with these key issues.

So, on Sunday and Monday I had a number of such one-to-one conversations, and participated in roundtable discussions (skilfully organised by the BPS staff), ensuring that the BPS voice is heard in these circles.

In particular, I represented the BPS at two key roundtable discussions.

One was on the fall-out from Brexit, where the BPS has important concerns, shared with many professional and academic colleagues, on EU funding of research, EU students at our universities, the transferability of qualifications and professional competencies on the staffing of the NHS and social care, where a large proportion of our colleagues are EU nationals, and potentially subject to threats to their residency status).

The second was on mental health policy, where the BPS has very clear interests in promoting a psycho-social perspective, the value of psychologists themselves, the benefits of a focus on prevention as well as psychological interventions for identified problems, and the more general health benefits of a consideration of psychological aspects of care.

More detailed discussions will be had in other settings, including in all-party parliamentary groups, where we will, for example, be launching our new dementia report.

Members may also take the opportunity to participate in a couple of interesting ‘commissions’ launched at the Lib Dem Conference. Nick Clegg is leading on a new commission with the Social Market Foundation on equity in education (something I imagine will appeal to BPS members) and Norman Lamb announced a cross-party review of the future structure and funding of health and social care, with a particular focus on integration of services.

I’m only halfway through my week, so thus far I’ve had meetings of our Presidential taskforce on the training of applied psychologists in statutory settings.

This was a really positive meeting which has the potential to help us develop powerful tools for lobbying for appropriate respect for the services and skills offered by applied psychologists, a coherent model of professional training which will allow us to negotiate confidently with funders and commissioners, and the potential to grow the membership of the family of psychology and indeed the BPS itself.

We have also been talking with colleagues from NHS England about improving our recognition and capacity to hold meaningful discussions within NHS England and related bodies.

Right now… I’m off to Edinburgh, to open a conference tomorrow on how psychology can respond to the challenge of compassion in the NHS, especially highlighted by a number of recent enquiries into failings in health and social care.

That evening, I’ll be travelling back down to London for the free annual joint lecture with the British Academy and the BPS exploring the effects of stress on the brain.

On all these events. plus possible televised discussion on psychological wellbeing and mental health, and then the political fun and games at the Labour Party Conference, I’ll hope to offer more in next week’s blog.

Wed, 21/09/2016 - 16:43


I have to confess a personal interest. In a few days time, my son, like many thousands of others, will be going to university. Distressingly, this means beginning what may well be a lifetime of debt. The psychological consequences are potentially serious.

A new survey of young people aged 18 to 24 suggests a large proportion experience significant concerns about money. In the survey the average debt was nearly £3000, before commitments such as student loans or mortgages were added. The average student loan balance is £25,505.

It is unsurprising that many of the young people surveyed felt that their debts were a "heavy burden". It seems, from the available data, that student debt has not deterred young people from going to university, but it may well make them anxious during and after their studies.

It’s good to see young people making their way in life, and it’s very good to go to university. But the consequences of such debt are worrying.

Debts can affect our mental health in many ways. Practically, when we do not have enough money to pay for all the things that are essential, like food, rent, bills, travel etc., our lives can become very difficult. When we cannot make the minimum repayments on the debts themselves, things become more difficult still.

As the young people in this survey reported, debt can be a persistent source of anxiety. It can also be a source of shame and regret. If we are in financial difficulties, we may feel ashamed and not want to talk to others about it.

To my way of thinking, these are the ‘normal’ rather than ‘abnormal’ psychological consequences of living with financial uncertainty. If I were pressed, I’d suggest that the ‘abnormality’ lies in our present economic, social and political system, rather than in the minds of young people.

My son is fortunate. Not (despite his own beliefs) because he has inalienable personal gifts, but because I have had a steady job for 28 years, and I can act as a guarantor (and benefactor).

Not all of us are so lucky. Even in a rich and developed nation – perhaps particularly in a rich and developed nation – such things as personal debt and the inequity between neighbours can be tough.

That is why, in my opinion, a commitment to social justice should go hand in hand with the application of psychological science.

Wed, 31/08/2016 - 12:14



We have inherited a great deal from early medieval scholars, including the way we refer to the work of other scientists in our writing. The hegemony of privileged men crediting the work of other privileged men started in the academies and cloisters – “secundum quod Averroes dicit...” or “as Averroes* said…”  – but we can see the echoes today, and not only in standard APA citation systems.

Why does this matter? Well, just possibly, this is both the origins and the visible legacy of our tendency for power and influence within academic and professional circles to bounce between members of friendship circles.

White, Oxbridge-educated, heterosexual, men tend to make reference to the work of their friends – other White, Oxbridge-educated, heterosexual, males. We cite our friends (or, too often, ourselves).

One of the achievements of which I’m most proud, from my time in a leadership position at the University of Liverpool, was helping secure an Athena Swan Silver Award, recognising our commitment to equity and opportunity and specifically in supporting and advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine in higher education and research. Although women frequently lead team science, their contribution is often erased.

As with many areas of academic life, psychology cannot claim to be perfect here. I’m a heterosexual, White, Oxbridge-educated, UK-born male professor, President of a Society with a much more diverse membership.

The statistics – in academia and in practitioner experiences – is that it is hugely more difficult for my female colleagues (constituting the majority of the profession and discipline) to progress. Equally, we are less than perfect in promoting colleagues from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

I don’t think our legacy from medieval scholarship is the only reason for this unfortunate state of affairs… but it’s a useful focus for me to introduce the issues.

We don't have to carry on doing things as they’ve always been done. I love medieval history, but sometimes its good to move forward. We could cite scientific advances in other ways. My Vice Chancellor would probably be pleased if we switched to crediting the institution supporting the research, but we could also cite the funder.

More to the point, in the era of doi’s and digital metadata, we may soon see significant reform of the systems of scientific citation. I love international conferences, but maybe that’s because I enjoy consolidating my (potentially biased) network of collaborators.

We could think about organising conferences differently. The SciFoo conference I recently attended in California was organised on a completely different basis to conventional academic conferences, for example, and we probably benefited from it.

Traditionally, academics have avoided speaking to the mass media and the general public, and I, for one, would welcome more inclusive dissemination of our research.

Perhaps we could do more to reward scientific collaboration as well as individual scientific success. More widely… we need to ensure that we are fully prepared to challenge received practices and make radical changes to enable greater equity and equality of opportunity.

 

* This is a quote from Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus, where he cited the work of Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd and Latinised his Islamic Andalusian name to ‘Averroes’.

Wed, 17/08/2016 - 15:04

Yohohama skyline

I have been travelling a lot over the past week, representing the British Psychological Society at ‘scifoo’ in California and at the International Congress of Psychology (ICP2016) in Yokohama. The lurking plausibility of a Donald Trump Presidency, perplexity over the Brexit result have been common talking points. Our place as psychologists in an international network of scientist and practitioners is hugely important, but needs some nurturing and care… especially now.

Our international colleagues see UK psychology as world leading, especially in fields that require critical or idiosyncratic (or even iconoclastic) thinking. Major worldwide trends in psychology have leading thinkers from UK universities and our admired health and social care system. We need to be continually mindful of our position in major international discussions.

On the one hand, many of our international colleagues are on the cusp of overtaking us in terms of both ideas and delivery. I have liaised closely with Norwegian colleagues over the past few years on conceptual psychosocial models of mental health care.

Now we see an unashamed psychosocial focus in Norway, with a recent ministerial recommendation for universal provision of medication-free services. Norway is approaching a ratio of 1 clinical psychologist for every 500 members of the public; a ratio that would equate to 120,000 clinical psychologists in the UK. While I would proudly suggest that UK psychologists are offering world-leading ideas, some of our international colleagues have leapfrogged us.

On the other hand, some of the ideas that are common currency in the UK are rather unknown elsewhere. My views on psychiatric diagnosis and the nature of ‘disorder’ and psychological distress may not be universally accepted, but these debates are vibrant and active in the UK.

We have a number of BPS documents – on psychotic experiences and on the contested nature of diagnosis – and are having active discussions, not only within the BPS, but in such bodies as the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry, the Critical Psychiatry Network and Mental Health Europe – Sante Mentale Europe.

We’re not at risk of being leapfrogged, but international colleagues seem to be unaware of these discussions, which is just as alarming.

Scifoo is a meeting of leading scientists, largely in the physical sciences. Here, the disputed notion of biomedical psychiatric illness was very positively received, but seemed entirely new and different.

Even at the purely psychological ICP2016, the idea that we need radically different approaches appeared difficult to integrate into colleagues’ views of the core purpose of their profession and discipline. The limitations of traditional psychiatric diagnoses, and the impact of such medicalised language on people’s understanding of the fundamental nature of their problems seemed new to many colleagues.

We need to be nimble and present to maintain our position in international debate. As individual academics and practitioners, we have a responsibility to speak with colleagues across the world. After the Brexit vote, that responsibility is particularly acute.

As President of the BPS, I have a particular responsibility to ensure that our links with the international scientific and professional communities are maintained. Our international profile is good  but it is not guaranteed. The effort involved in maintaining our international links is definitely worth it.

Wed, 27/07/2016 - 11:21

We are always actively seeking members’ input to a great number of live consultations on policy issues related to psychology. Right now, two are particularly worthy of mention.

 In April, following the comprehensive spending review and significant further pressure on public spending in health and social care, the UK government announced that: “From 1 August 2017, new nursing, midwifery and allied health students will no longer receive NHS bursaries. Instead, they will have access to the same student loans system as other students.” That means  nursing and other healthcare students will soon be required to take out loans to fund their training.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation on how to implement this change and we are seeking our members’ views on how to respond. We are deeply concerned about the possible impact on these students, and therefore on the ability of the health and social care systems to deliver the services upon which we all rely.

Although student loans are now the norm in England and Wales, this is not the case across the UK as a whole. I remain committed to the idea that free, universal, education is an ideal of any civilised society. More importantly, for these particular students, the prospect of tens of thousands of pounds of additional debt at the end of training will have a negative impact on the future of these professionals and the patients in their care.

Our response is likely to stress the unwelcome nature of these changes for the overall delivery of psychological health care. Providing the best standards of care requires many different types of healthcare professionals working together in multi-disciplinary teams – any negative impact to one part of the system will have a knock on effect.

Currently, training for Clinical Psychology and some other mental health professions (including psychological therapists in the IAPT programme and child psychotherapists) that are funded indirectly by Health Education England are unaffected.

We are cautiously reassured that psychologists have been spared from the effects of these reforms for now. This move reflects the recognition that psychologists in training deliver invaluable services to the NHS… much like our junior doctor colleagues.

At the same time, a different arm of the political octopus – the House of Commons public accounts committee (not, technically, an arm of Government, but holding government to account) – has announced a call for evidence on the topic of ‘improving access to mental health services’.

The public accounts committee noted various positive steps taken (or announced) in this area: clear commitments from the prime minister and the Department of Health to improve mental health services, for ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health, and, therefore clear access and waiting time standards.

The committee has raised concerns, following a rather sceptical report by the National Audit Office that said the cost of improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT), early intervention in psychosis and liaison psychiatry services could be 25 per cent higher than clinical commissioning groups have spent in the past and that their budgets may not stretch.

The British Psychological Society will be making a written submission to the Committee. Our view is likely to be that it is not only welcome but necessary, to follow through with these ‘Parity of Esteem’ commitments. People have a right to expect the NHS to provide NICE-recommended care whether in the field of physical or mental healthcare.

Investment in health and social care is not only a moral imperative and necessary for a well-functioning society, but it also represents value for money. Psychological health, particularly preventative and early intervention services, represents a clear net saving to the public purse in the avoidance of higher, future, costs.

The BPS has a stronger influence if we respond in one unified voice. If you wish to add to our discussions please contribute by emailing the Society consultations address or contact me directly. 

Find out more about my plans for next week.

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 15:07

Keith Flint, founding chair of Derby University Psychological Society, contacted me almost a year ago to tell me of the establishment of Derby PsychSoc.

A year later, PsychSoc is one of the two largest student societies at the university, just about to overtake Derby LawSoc, and is going from strength to strength. 

So it was great to visit Derby on Tuesday to be shown round the campus and the psychology labs, to meet students and staff, to lecture a packed lecture theatre on what a fantastic discipline psychology is and to make a short video.

Thanks for a great afternoon, Keith, and all the committee and members of Derby PsychSoc, particular good luck to the third years, and keep up the good work!

Fri, 26/02/2016 - 11:17

Keith Flint, founding chair of Derby University Psychological Society, contacted me almost a year ago to tell me of the establishment of Derby PsychSoc.

A year later, PsychSoc is one of the two largest student societies at the university, just about to overtake Derby LawSoc, and is going from strength to strength. 

So it was great to visit Derby on Tuesday to be shown round the campus and the psychology labs, to meet students and staff, to lecture a packed lecture theatre on what a fantastic discipline psychology is and to make a short video.

Thanks for a great afternoon, Keith, and all the committee and members of Derby PsychSoc, particular good luck to the third years, and keep up the good work!

Fri, 26/02/2016 - 11:17

It's always an occasion to celebrate when a new undergraduate psychology course opens. We now have over 100 UK universities offering psychology at first-degree level and psychology remains a firm favourite when it comes to potential undergraduates choosing which subject to study.

However, it was a particular pleasure to be invited back to King’s College London last week for a small celebration to mark the return of psychology teaching to King's.

King's has a long tradition of teaching psychology. C.S. Myers, the Society's first Secretary and its President in 1926, was a part-time professor of psychology there in 1903.

In 1939 the University of London took the decision to move psychology teaching to another of its colleges, Birkbeck. But this term psychology has returned to King's as a BPS-accredited BSc degree course.

So it was very good to be with Prof Dame Til Wykes, Profs Shitij Kapur, Patrick Leman and Edgar Jones and course leader Dr Mike Aitken Deakin to help them to mark the occasion.

Mon, 22/02/2016 - 13:59

It's always an occasion to celebrate when a new undergraduate psychology course opens. We now have over 100 UK universities offering psychology at first-degree level and psychology remains a firm favourite when it comes to potential undergraduates choosing which subject to study.

However, it was a particular pleasure to be invited back to King’s College London last week for a small celebration to mark the return of psychology teaching to King's.

King's has a long tradition of teaching psychology. C.S. Myers, the Society's first Secretary and its President in 1926, was a part-time professor of psychology there in 1903.

In 1939 the University of London took the decision to move psychology teaching to another of its colleges, Birkbeck. But this term psychology has returned to King's as a BPS-accredited BSc degree course.

So it was very good to be with Prof Dame Til Wykes, Profs Shitij Kapur, Patrick Leman and Edgar Jones and course leader Dr Mike Aitken Deakin to help them to mark the occasion.

Mon, 22/02/2016 - 13:59

Professor Jamie Hacker HughesThis week has continued to be fantastic.

On Tuesday, I welcomed 650 A and AS Level students to the London Psychology for Students event. We hold two of these at the end of every year – one outside London and one in London -  and the first of these took place in Sheffield a couple of weeks ago.

In London the students listened to:

  • Dr Peter Lovatt (‘Dr Dance’) from the University of Hertfordshire on the psychology of dance;
  • Dr Richard Stephens, the psychobiologist from Keele University on the psychology of swearing; and
  • Forensic psychologist Dr Julian Boon from the University of Leicester on criminal profiling and crime scene assessment.

On Wednesday, I welcomed a similar number of psychology graduates to our Psychology for Graduates event, again in London, where I  joined the other keynote speakers:

  • John Amaechi, psychologist and former NBA basketball player, of Amaechi Performance Systems;
  • George Kitsaras, our 50000th member and assistant psychologist with Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust;
  • Dr Carolyn Mair of London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London;
  • James Randall-James, Co-Chair of Pre-Qualifications Group (DCP) and Steph Minchin Pre-Qualifications Group (DCP), clinical psychology trainees at the University of Hertfordshire;
  • Dr Rob Yeung, an organisational psychologist from Talentspace Ltd.

The atmosphere and buzz at both events was electric and the interest in the BPS and several other stands in the exhibition stalls was incredible.

Our profession and discipline of psychology is in very good hands. Good luck to everyone who attended both events and, if you need any more information, just get in touch!

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 16:35

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